THE DRUMBEATS CAN BE HEARD already.  Another season of elections approaches, a season so near that it is already here.  Its signs are visible even to the blind, its sound audible to the deaf.  The subterfuge and the posturing, the deals and alliances, the propaganda—all point to antics of politicians.  

In the build up to the 2019 elections in Nigeria, there is a compelling need to do a lot of thinking, to raise and address a fundamental question: knowledge, pleasure, wealth or power—which of the four should occupy the driver’s seat as we begin this journey into another election season?

The ultimate objective of politics, that is, politics in the proper sense of the word, is the intelligent ordering of common life for the sake of the common good.    But there is a huge gap between imperative and indicative, between what is and what ought to be.  Politics in Nigeria is not and has never been decided by knowledge.  If it had been, this country would have benefitted from the services of men and women of ideas.  Politics in Nigeria, at least since independence, has always been driven by power in search of wealth, and wealth in search of pleasure.  The desire to accumulate wealth is driven by the desire for pleasure, and an insatiable appetite for pleasure is driven by power addiction.  That has been our story.  And if what we are already observing is anything to go by, the politics of 2019 will not be different. 

The history of Nigerian politics is driven by an unbridled desire of the political elite in each of the diverse ethnic and religious communities within the geographical space called Nigeria to control the mineral resources of Nigeria, especially oil from the Niger Delta.  The elite that seeks to control this oil imposed on us a so-called federal constitution that places control of all our mineral resources in the hands of the federal government.  In the struggle for control of Nigeria’s oil, the political elite, represented across ethnic and religious divide, enters into a pact from time to time, to decide whose turn it is to control the wealth, especially the oil. 

It is highly unlikely that the outcome of the 2019 elections will be determined by the people.  Like previous elections, it will most likely be decided by the political elite.  Our democracy is a democracy of the elite, a government of the elite for the elite by the elite.  That is why a state governor can declare with finality that he will give his state a governor.  In other words, he has this confidence that his decision on who succeeds him will determine the outcome of the electoral process. The godfather anoints a candidate.  The votes of the people do not count.  The vote of the godfather does.  And what obtains in the states obtains at the federal level. 

While in state elections the gubernatorial seat is the big prize, in federal elections, the presidency is the big prize.  Given Nigeria’s strange political arrangement that concentrates enormous powers in the presidency, occupancy of Aso Rock is the trophy of trophies.  The President controls the parastatal that determine whether or not you obtain a driver’s licence even if you live in the remotest corner of Nigeria.  The President controls parastatals that determine how much you buy fuel, whether or not you can own an oil well, and many other things.  The real prize is the oil. Nigeria’s political elite ensures that the decision on who controls it is never beyond its control.  Whoever becomes President sits on the oil.  The office of President has been turned into the office of an oil distributor.  So, if you are a player in the money-driven politics of Nigeria, it is in your interest that you have a say on who becomes President of Nigeria. Nigerians really have no say about who emerges as presidential candidate of any of the parties.  In the absence of internal democracies, parties come up with candidates of dubious antecedents, compelling the people to make a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

Our quarrels in Nigeria have never been over religious and ethnic differences.  Religion and ethnicity are only uses as weapons in a war over who controls the oil.  What appears to be a north-south struggle over the presidency, including the 1967-70 war, what appears to be a fight between Christianity and Islam is in reality the exploitation of ethnic and religious differences in the war over oil.  For the Nigerian politician is neither fighting for Islam nor for Christianity nor for his ethnic community but for his selfish interest.  He only finds it politically expedient to call members of his religious and ethnic communities to arms so that their “son” or their “daughter” may get into office.  But when he eventually gets into office, does he initiate and or execute policies that favour them?  What have the various sections of Nigeria that have produced heads of state got to show for the fact that their sons occupied the highest office in the land?  Have those places become local government areas in paradise?

But we the people are not innocent.  We willfully refuse to ask the right question about aspirants to public offices in Nigeria.  And even when a few of us raise pertinent questions about their antecedents, those questions are glossed over or portrayed as impertinent.  It’s like a panel of interviewers who refuse to interview but insist on hiring an applicant for a job.  We are easily swayed by campaign rhetoric, influenced by bags of rice, and satisfied with barrels of cooking oil and bundles of naira and dollar bills shared at campaign venues while dancing to hypnotizing rhythms of musicians at the same campaign venues.  We are charmed by packaged candidates without demonstrable competence.  The question we should be asking is: who is the most suitable person for the highest office in the land? But the question we ask is the question the political elite make us believe is the right question, and that is: where should the next President come from? 

Having set the question, the same elite imposes its own answer on all of us.  Having decided where the President is to come from, the elite then decides, by its own pact, who among the elite from the ethnic “ruling house” is to be President.  Once that is decided, an expensive campaign season kicks off, with the ruling elite putting its money on the anointed one, and using the same money to hire and arm a militia, euphemistically called the youth wing of the political party.  Quite often, the armed youth wing is not disarmed after the election.  Do we still wonder why every election season and the weeks and months after it are marked by violence crimes?

It is of utmost importance that we Nigerians understand the dynamics of politics in our country.  The tension that accompanies every campaign season is explained by the struggle for power through the struggle for wealth in view of maximizing pleasure.  An oligarchy of kingmakers within our political parties decides on who among them is going to be distributor of the wealth of our land, for their own use and for our own deprivation.  And the electoral process is reduced to a rubber stamp.  That has been our story since independence. 

The first step to change is to know what is going on.  The next step is to apply the knowledge we have acquired.  We must ensure that we know where each candidate stands on very important issues before we go to the polls.  That is why we must insist that every candidate in the next election present himself or herself for a nationally televised debate.  That alone will not solve the problem.  But it will, at least, be part of the solution.

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